Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lubos Motl does not seem to understand that the Earth has its limits

Lubos Motl, a skeptic when it comes Climate Change does not seem to understand that the Earth has limits for what it can handle before undergoing a tremendous shock. On his blog we discussed a hypothetical and extreme scenario, which by his admission is unlikely but not impossible, where the Earth undergoes a warming of 10 degrees over a period of 300 years and the CO2 levels reach 3000 PPM. This discussion resulted in him banning me from commenting on his blog. He casually scoffs at a 10 degree change in global temperature as nothing dangerous because he survived one hot summer and one cold winter. Changes of that magnitude during the course of Earth's history have caused mass extinctions. It is highly likely that an event of that magnitude will happen again if such a change were to occur. The earth has a complex and highly interconnected ecosystems. If certain key elements of the ecosystem are disrupted it would lead to a domino effect. It is a highly nonlinear event and cannot be oversimplified by saying just .03 degrees every year. Weather patterns of the earth have been relatively stable for a period much longer than 300 years. I understand his key point that one weather pattern is as good as another, but that is not all that there is to this discussion. Ecosystems take a long time to build and adapt to existing weather patterns.

He thinks the problems humanity will face if such a change happens will be easily solvable by things such as walling off coastal cities, migration and building artificial ecosystems. He also thinks that other forms of life will adapt to such changes with relative ease in 300 years. While I agree that certain systematic problems can be solved with the use of technology and human ingenuity. If the delicate balance of nature is disturbed it will cause irreparable damage. The cost of such an event cannot be valued in terms of money. We should not allow ourselves to be in a position where we are in damage control. Life will definitely survive if such an event happens and new ecosystems would develop around the new weather patterns, but the magnitude of the shock life will experience cannot be underestimated. Lubos, the Earth is not a child's toy.

It is one thing to talk about what the magnitude of the changes are to the Earth due to the activities of man, whether it is concerning and whether there had been a systematic manipulation of data for the furthering of a political agenda and have a meaningful discussion about it. But it can only happen when he will recognize and admit that the Earth has limits to what it can handle. He appears to be thinking that so long as the oceans don't boil the earth is safe.

I admire Lubos Motl for his general intelligence and his insights into physics. In regard to the Earth's climate and the discussion surrounding it he is much more well read and has much deeper understanding of the climate than me. I have only started looking at some issues surrounding the topic. I understand his distrust of the discussions taking place regarding climate change. I advice caution to the readers of his blog. I think the other people studying the field can sketch more clearly to him what the magnitude of such an event could be.

Even if we had an endless and free supply of fossil fuels, we cannot build the future of our civilization based on fossil fuels, which has an exponential growth in energy use. It is absolutely necessary to make a transition to renewable forms of energies. What is up for scientific inquiry is how long we have, how much we can use and how we can ration our limited budget of fossil fuels while making a transition to renewable energies. It is important for the scientific community to be honest in this inquiry to make an informed decision. This is not a political agenda, nor should one resort to fear mongering.

I have expressed an intuition that many people studying this subject have by looking at an extreme case scenario. It is possible that he is right all along, but I don't find his arguments to be even remotely convincing. Perhaps it will be possible to weaken or strengthen this intuition by looking at an example such as the coral reef ecosystem by analyzing their growth rates, optimum conditions for survival and equilibrium conditions of calcium carbonate dissolution and formation etc. It is something I hope to be looking at it in detail when I can find the time.